One of the most frequently asked questions that I get is " Do you use chemicals to clean rugs?". I'm assuming that this is because, in an effort to make their cleaning system "special" more cleaners advertise that they use "no chemicals" or "green cleaning" and the public is misinformed and confused. As usual, let me throw some things at the wall and see if they stick.....
Everything in the world as we know it, natural or manmade is created from chemicals. Wikipedia states Chemical substances (also sometimes referred to as a pure substances) are often defined as "any material with a definite chemical composition" in most introductory general chemistry textbooks. According to this definition a chemical substance can either be a pure chemical element or a pure chemical compound. That makes water (H20) and air (02, hydrogen + other elements), wool and cotton chemicals in a literal sense. Water made in a lab is identical in every way to water that comes from a river (except for the silt and debris).
So YES in a real technical sense that when we use soap and water to clean rugs, we do use chemicals. Even natural fiber rugs are made from chemicals.
The confusion lies in the fact that the word chemical also applies to the products (and by-products) of the chemical industry in a broad chemical category including polymers, bulk petrochemicals and intermediates, other derivatives and basic industrials, inorganic chemicals, and fertilizers.
Occasionally we use solvents to remove oil and grease based spots and residue from rugs but typically NO, we don't use those chemicals to clean rugs. In many cases any latex in the backing would dissolve and this kind of cleaning would create other problems. Even after spotting with solvent (which evaporates) the rugs are usually wet cleaned anyway.
The amount of solvent used to spot is so small that there's a very low chance of it affecting your carbon footprint AND if everyone cleaned their things more regularly AND was more careful about what got dropped on the floor, we could use less.
We have our water quality checked yearly by the city of Seattle to see exactly what the heck is going down our drain. We use a good old fashioned washfloor, not an automated cleaning system so the water runs into a drain and screen along the side to collect the solid material that washes off of and out of the rugs (pet hair, lint, gravel, etc.). The remaining water always passes inspection as safe to enter the sanitary sewer system. We did look at a water recycling system a few years ago but it was SOOOOO bulky and expensive not to mention having to retrofit our building to take the system, the city mavens of recycling threw up their hands and told us not to bother.
The soap we use is formulated for wool rugs, about a ph7 which is neutral and is about as mild as a hair shampoo. It has no appreciable odor or fragrance. We use cold water to wash and rinse with unless we're correcting fringes or sanitizing a synthetic urine filled rug.
The rugs are air dried.
What could be greener? Soap, water and air. Clean rugs keep your home healthier, keeps dirty old rugs out of landfills and is economically efficient. Regular cleaning makes them easier to maintain.
Back to "green cleaning" rugs in Seattle......